Youth, Food, and Social Change

Young people across North America are increasingly encouraged to get their hands dirty. Amid public debates about the risks of industrial farming, panic over childhood obesity rates, and calls for a shift toward more local ways of eating, we see increasing support for educational initiatives that seek to reconnect young people to their food.  My current research combines discourse analysis of high-profile cases, with ethnographic research in community food initiatives targeting young people. The project examines how collective hopes and anxieties about the food system are projected onto young people as the promise of a healthy, sustainable future. (See my article in Children’s Geographies on the discursive construction of the school garden, as well as my chapter on “Morality and Relationality in Children’s Foodscapes.”) At the same time, this study explores how young people negotiate these discourses – how they understand their own location in the food system, and their capacity to effect change within it.

The significance of the child within collective food futures is also central to our analysis in “The Family Behind the Farm: Race and the Affective Geographies of Manitoba Pork Production”, Antipode 2015.

Food and Femininity


Feminist scholar Marjorie DeVault famously stated, “by feeding the family, a woman conducts herself as recognizably womanly” (1991: 118). In Food and Femininity (Bloomsbury 2015), Josée Johnston and I investigate the contemporary contours of this relationship. How are food and femininity connected today? Our interest in food includes the unpaid foodwork that goes on in the home (and sustains capitalist economies), as well as the ways that food is consumed to construct an identity. Food is about getting the daily meal on the table, but it is also about expressing creativity, seeking pleasure, connecting with others, nourishing (and controlling) the body, and enacting politics. Throughout the book, we explore how these food practices are gendered, and show how food femininities emerge in the context of intersecting dynamics of race and class.  Because food plays into so many aspects of women’s lives, we theorize food femininities as multiple and performative, laborious and emotional, culturally articulated and embedded within material structures. The book is organized around key sites in the performance of food femininities: shopping, mothering, health and body, politics, pleasure, and foodwork. Our goal is to make clear why food and femininity remain intricately connected topics that require open-minded kitchen-table discussions, as well as critical research. We propose that caring about food provides a starting point for engaging with key social struggles – struggles that involve gender but also capitalism, inequality, health, and sustainability. Overall, we seek to develop a feminist approach to food studies that builds from women’s food identities and experiences.

Read reviews of Food and Femininity in Antipode, Canadian Food Studies, Food, Culture & Society, Gender & SocietyLSE Review of Books and The Sociological Review.

This work builds on past collaborations with Josée Johnston on diverse projects that use food as a lens onto dynamics of gender, culture, identity, and inequality. Our Theory and Society article analyzes a healthy eating discourse that we call the “do-diet”; by framing dietary restrictions as positive choices, this discourse works to mediate neoliberal ideals of choice and control. Our article in Gender & Society (co-authored with Shyon Baumann) employs the concept of “doing gender” to explore how classed masculinities and femininities are enacted in foodie culture. In addition, our Journal of Consumer Culture article (co-authored with Norah MacKendrick) presents an analysis of the “organic child” — a classed and gendered cultural ideal that emerges at the intersection of neoliberal conceptions of childhood and ethical food discourse. In July 2015, I spoke with Slate’s “Mom and Dad Are Fighting” about the organic child ideal.

Subjectivity, Schooling, and Rural Youth
In 2011, I completed a PhD in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (supervisor: Kari Dehli). My dissertation, Mapping Futures, Making Selves: Subjectivity, Schooling and Rural Youth, extends sociological debates about youth, subjectivity, and neoliberalism. Based on ethnographic research in a rural Ontario school, the study explores students’ participation in a career-education program that attempts to prepare youth for their futures in neoliberal times. Teasing apart the intersections of gender, race, class and space within students’ narratives of the future, I argue that in order to understand the complex relationship between neoliberal policies and student subjectivities, our theoretical approaches must attend to the spatially specific cultural practices through which subjects are formed.

This research opens up a range of theoretical and empirical questions that I am continuing to pursue in my work, with particular focus on feminist theory, subjectivity formation, and embodied intersections of gender, race, class and space. Methodologically, the study demonstrates how feminist debates about power and positionality in ethnographic research can be extended through a spatial analysis; I discuss these insights in an article in Ethnography and Education. In addition, my analysis of the emotional geographies of neoliberalism has been published within The Canadian Geographer. My analysis of rural youths’ racialized place-narratives has been published within the Canadian Journal of Sociology; the article contributes to scholarship theorizing the spatial organization of racism by developing an intersectional approach to white rural imaginaries. I have also published in Gender and Education regarding the significance of place within the gendered formation of student subjectivities and future aspirations.

Urban Arts High Schools Project
I have also conducted research within the field of urban education. Working with Dr. Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández on the Urban Arts High Schools Project, I participated in the design, implementation and analysis of ethnography and interviews in diverse Toronto arts high schools. Our co-authored article in Education and Urban Society demonstrates how contrasting conceptions of “choice” constructed within two arts-focused schools reflect the different class and race dynamics in these specific urban spaces. Our co-authored article in the International Journal of Education and the Arts reflects upon various methodological dilemmas we encountered through this project, relating to questions of embodiment and representation in educational research. In addition, I coauthored a chapter (with Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and Chandni Desai) in Privilege, Agency and Affect, an international collection edited by Claire Maxwell and Peter Aggleton (Palgrave MacMillan). Drawing theoretical insights from the emotional geographies of education, we analyze the production of a “Sense of Entitlement” within elite schooling spaces, and argue that this affective process is a key component in the reproduction of privilege.


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